Cross cultural conversational confusion


Yesterday during my Chinese lesson, my teacher Luo Jiajia  (aka Annie Luo) and I had – as we always do – about 20 minutes  of conversation to  improve my listening skills and help me to speak more natural spoken Chinese.   It was late on Friday afternoon so she asked me what our plans for the weekend were, and after I told her that Saturday was busy but Sunday I was just going to take it easy she asked me if I knew what Sunday’s date was – “Of course ” I said, “its November 11th”.

“It is a special date and a special day” she said. 
“I know ” I replied “and it seems very strange that I am not wearing a poppy.” As I didn’t know the Chinese word for poppy I had to hurriedly flip through my Mandarin dictionary.  Annie looked at me a bit bemused, and then said it was a pity she was so busy as some of her friends had invited her to a big party to celebrate the day and it would have been fun to go.

“Party?” I asked  “Oh yes, there are lots of parties – and weddings – on this special day”       “Well in the UK we wouldn’t have parties because of the date” I said, “it is a very solemn occasion, and though it may not be observed as rigidly as it was before, I think we should still take the time to remember our dead soldiers”

“Dead soldiers” Annie cried, looking horrified “what dead soldiers?”                                    “Well, you know, all the people who died in war”.  By now she had a look of blank incomprehension, and I was struggling with my paltry language skills and limited vocabulary. Obviously I must have used the wrong words – or perhaps I hadn’t understood her question. We looked at each other.   “I think we are talking about different things” I said.

“No”Annie said firmly “we are talking about 11th November.  Every year it is Singles Day”.
Now it was my turn to be bemused, yet again I had to flick through the dictionary.

“Isn’t it Singles Day in Britain?” she asked,    “No, in Britain and many other countries it is Remembrance Day – the day the First World War ended. Our Queen leads the people in solemn remembrance, at 11am in the morning she, and thousands of others, stand still in silence for two minutes.”                Annie explained that she had never heard of this, and that China did not do this.

Then she explained why it is called Singles Day in China. The literal translation of the name is ‘bare sticks holiday’, I’ve subsequently discovered that it was created in the 1990s by some Chinese university students. November 11 was chosen as the Singles Day because it writes 11.11 like ‘four sticks’.  So there are lots of parties and most young people in the country celebrate it; and single people hope to meet other compatible singletons and then end up in a relationship – no longer single! Hence its popularity as a date on which to marry.

It had certainly been a lesson in cross cultural confusion.

Then she moved on to ask me why the Australians called English people ‘Poms’.  I felt quite exhausted with the thought of trying to explain that in Chinese, and wondered why we couldn’t just be frightfully British and discuss the weather.

List of new vocabulary acquired during the lesson:  poppy = yīngsù, war = zhánzhēng, soldiers = shìbīng, Queen=nüwáng, remembrance= huíxiăngqĭ

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About herschelian

Recently moved to Beijing from London - its all new to me! Trying to learn Chinese, and what makes this city tick.
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One Response to Cross cultural conversational confusion

  1. Rollie says:

    Forget the Great Wall Marathon, I’d better join you in BJ on 11 November, Jo!

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